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It’s going to be a busy year for Racine Habitat for Humanity.

The group recently sold its first constructed home in Mount Pleasant, which was financed by a personal donation from SC Johnson Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson. There also will be another new 1½-story house built next to it at 2231 Mead St., with construction expected to start this June. The lot, once home to the former Adams Hotel built in 1914 and demolished in the 1970s, was donated to the project by SC Johnson.

Work will also begin on two other properties, and another donated rehabbed home will go up for sale in Racine this March. The real impact, however, is not just in the actual construction — it’s the dreams and communities being built, said Habitat for Humanity Executive Director LeeAnn Launstein.

“Not only are we providing homes for people, but we are building up neighborhoods with newer, improved homes,” said Launstein. “Owner-occupied homes are better for the neighborhood. It also convinces neighbors to improve their homes. It’s stable. The homeowners are becoming part of the community. Children who are in stable homes also do better in school.”

Homes that are rehabbed also are totally rebuilt, providing stability to neighborhoods. “When we sell an older home, it’s rebuilt like new,” said Habitat Board President Jan Roland. “We try to maintain existing housing stock.”

85 homes and counting

Since the international, faith-based international program’s move into Racine County in 1988, it has built and rehabbed 85 homes in the inner city. Another bonus is that reusable materials and structural items taken from tear-downs are sold in the organization’s ReStore, located at 2302 DeKoven Ave., with the proceeds used to fund other projects. The workers at the store are also volunteers.

“It keeps a lot of usable materials out of landfills,” noted Roland. “You never know what we’ll get in. We’ve even had baby grand pianos. It’s a hoot.”

Potential owners, volunteers and professionals on building teams all share a huge sense of pride in the homes.

Volunteers offer their time. Professionals offer their building knowledge, or skills, such as an architect who provides actual construction blueprints from which builders work.

Potential owners chosen according to government income levels are required to put in 300 hours of labor or “sweat equity” and often work on other homes until they are approved. New owners then pay back the homes, usually sold in the $90,000 to $100,000 range, at a 0 percent mortgage.

A dream come true

For 32-year-old Christian Velez and 27-year-old Leysha Gonzalez, participating in the Habitat program has been a dream come true. The couple began volunteering in 2014 and will be moving into their own home with their three sons at 1819 Clayton Ave. The house is expected to be complete in about six months.

When a friend told him about the program, Velez said he thought it was a good idea and had a lot of advantages. “Why keep paying for someone else instead of paying for our own (home)?” he asked. “You have a room for each of the kids. You can do upgrades how you like and you’re not looking for the landlord for this or that.”

While Velez said they are now almost done putting in their hours, he would like to continue volunteering. “My sister has applied as well,” he said.

Right now, he and his family are looking forward to their own moving-in day. “The first thing we’re going to do is take our family and friends and our pastor to see the house,” he said. “We want to show them the house and have a good time.”

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